The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is a system in which one EU Member State can ask another EU Member State to deliver a suspect to face trial, a witness to be questioned, or a person convicted to serve a sentence. It has been in existence for nearly ten years, and time has come to review and reform this tool for extradition. Although the time it takes for someone to be transferred to the issuing country has been reduced from the previous systems of extradition, in 2011, only 29% of EAWs issued were executed.
UK Member of European Parliament (MEP) Sarah Ludford has drafted a report about the EAW with the objective to examine the EAW’s proportionality and observance of human rights. European Parliament committees may be called upon to draft a report on legislative or non-legislative issues, when it concerns a policy area within their competency. A committee might also draft a report on its own legislative initiative, as is the case with this draft report on the EAW (legislative initiative report). The reports can be taken forward, to invite the Commission and Council of the European Union to present legislative proposals.
This draft report is a major step towards reform of the EAW and its implementation. It highlights the ongoing hurdles for the development of EU criminal justice policy with human rights at its heart. It also touches on the need to improve detention conditions, with the recognition that prisoners are also people with dignity and human rights. The report makes clear that infringement, or risk of infringement, of basic human rights should be grounds for refusal of an EAW, and that alternatives should be used in place of the EAW to limit misuse of this mutual recognition instrument for minor crime (maintaining proportionality) and to limit pre-trial detention. It also highlights that alternatives to the EAW should be used for minor offences and that concern exists about the failure to use other existing mutual recognition instruments. An example of an alternative instrument which QCEA supports is the ESO.
As Quakers work to uphold human rights of those in custody, support of this report and the recommendations below is necessary so that the human rights and dignity of those subject to an EAW are not forgotten or ignored. The EAW is an important step toward coherence and mutuality within the EU with regard to justice: it should not be scrapped or re-written, but it does need reform. This reform can go hand-in-hand with other legislation: recent developments from the European Commission in relation to procedural safeguards and rights, if implemented correctly at Member State level, might reduce human rights violations and improve the chances of a fair trial under the EAW. These include directives regarding maintaining presumed innocence, guaranteeing access to a lawyer, and information about their case, with translation and interpretation.
As Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone, it prompts us to see offenders as human beings with dignity and rights, and to care for their welfare no matter what their crimes. No one is outside of God’s love. Where crimes have been committed, both forgiveness and justice are needed. Quakers’ engagement with social and political problems means we are conscious of the root causes of crime and their effects on individuals’ behaviour. The presumption of innocence must be maintained for people not (yet) convicted of any offence. Freedom of movement and the simple fact of European countries being in close proximity, means that cooperation between EU Member States is essential. It is therefore crucial that we support reform of the EAW, to learn from what has worked and not worked, and to maintain the human rights of people in the EU. Write to your MEP, and ask them to support the Ludford report on reform of the EAW. Here are some issues you could raise with your MEP:
> The need for proportionality tests so that those accused of a minor crime are not imprisoned prior to trial. An EAW should only be used for more serious crimes: an example is to revise the criteria for use of an EAW to apply only to crimes with a maximum sentence of two years or more, rather than the current 12 months.
> Increased use of alternatives to detention before trial and also after conviction, to support human rights and also further mutual trust between EU Member States. Member States should increase their use of the Probation Framework Decision (2008/947/JHA) and the European Supervision Order (ESO) in place of the EAW.
> The protection of fundamental rights must be an adequate reason for an EU Member State to refuse an EAW, so that a person is not transferred or detained in inhumane or degrading detention conditions after extradition. National justice systems should be reformed to ensure that inequities between the judicial systems are equalized, and suspects are exposed to similar detention conditions in different Member States when an EAW is issued.
> Member States must also ensure that an EAW is not issued until the judiciary of a state is ready for trial and has enough evidence for a reasonable chance of conviction, minimising the use of costly pre-trial detention and honouring the presumption of innocence by preventing punishment (by imprisonment) of people not yet convicted of a crime (and who may never be convicted if the case is dropped or they are found innocent).
> Member State judiciaries must allow a right to review of unexecuted EAWs, including consideration of whether they should be withdrawn. This means that people are not affected by former unexecuted EAWs, if and/or when they travel or move country.
The European Parliament’s draft report on the EAW was discussed in the European Parliament Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee on 27th November 2013. The draft report will be voted on by MEPs in the March 2014 plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Once adopted, it is for MEPs supporting the report to discuss the way forward with the European Commission, or a group of Member States in the European Council, so that the EAW legislation is either re-written or reformed, or more horizontal policy measures are introduced or promoted alongside the existing mechanism.
Reform of the EAW is needed, although not necessarily an extensive re-writing of the legislation. EU policy-makers and Member States must recognise those subject to the EAW as people with rights and dignity, not only suspects and prisoners. Only then can the EU truly live up to its common European values, helping to uphold the mutual trust and mutual recognition needed for the optimal functioning of the EAW.
This blog post is excerpted from Imogen Parker’s recent discussion paper on the EAW. Read the whole paper on the QCEA website: http://www.qcea.org/2013/12/discussion-paper-the-european-arrest-warrant-and-steps-toward-reform/